2021 Skoda Octavia: First Drive Review
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The new-generation Octavia looks to be a big step up from the last one. However, that also stands true for the price tag. Can the new car justify its steep asking price?
The Octavia nameplate has a cult following. It introduced performance, luxury, and practicality in a VFM package, making it a massive hit among enthusiasts and sensible buyers alike. The 2021 Octavia is different, though. AT least on paper. Like always, it comes across as luxurious and performance-oriented, but Skoda has scaled up the pricing considerably, taking away the VFM quotient.
So is the high asking price justified? Or will this push potential Octavia buyers to get an SUV instead?
The new Octavia has grown in every direction, except the wheelbase that’s surprisingly 8 mm shorter than the outgoing car. It looks unmistakably like an Octavia, despite not sharing a single body panel with the old car. At the front, you now get new sharper adaptive bi-LED headlamps, and the Skoda grille is bigger and sits more upright.
In profile, it carries forward the fastback stance of the old car, with the sharp crease running across making it look sleek and sporty. All versions of the Octavia get 17-inch alloy wheels, but considering the size of the car, Skoda should have also offered bigger 18-inchers. The wheels on the L&K variant look more elegant than sporty, and will split people’s opinions.
At the rear, the boomerang-shaped tail lamps look attractive and sharply cut. And combined with the sloping roofline, the Octavia is a sporty-looking car even while standing still.
Inside, the Octavia’s dash design is simple yet thoroughly modern. The floating 10-inch infotainment screen takes centre stage and lends sophistication to an otherwise simple design. But it is in the quality that this car justifies its asking price. The interior fit and finish is a big step up over the old car, and the new Octavia can actually rival cars from a segment above. As a result, the new sedan affords you a sense of luxury that none of its rivals can match.
When it comes to seating comfort, the large front seats are accommodating, and the well-contoured backrest makes long journeys comfortable. The host of steering and seat adjustments lets you find your ideal driving position quite easily too. Like with the old Octy, the rear-seat occupants here get loads of space, and despite the sloping roof, headroom is adequate for even tall passengers.
What could have made the rear seat experience better, though, is a longer seat squab and better underthigh support. The wide cabin ensures that even the third rear occupant can sit comfortably. But like before, you will have your feet astride a sizable transmission tunnel.
The Octavia is so practical that it can put many SUVs to shame. You get multiple cup and bottle holders and other storage spaces for your knick-knacks. But it’s the massive 580-litre boot that’s the icing on the cake. It’s practically shaped, the loading lip is reasonably low, and the hatch opening just makes it very easy to load large bags. You can also fold the rear seats to have your own king-size bed in case your wife throws you out of the house for spending so much on an Octavia.
The 10-inch infotainment screen is the real highlight. It is a tech-heavy unit featuring gesture control, a touch-sensitive scroll bar to adjust the volume, and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It is a responsive unit, too, with crisp graphics and fluid touch response. There’s a ridge to place your palm on (and it’s placed high up on the dashboard), making it easy to use on the move.
In the L&K variant, you also get virtual cockpit digital instrumentation displaying various functions like a trip computer, onboard navigation, and a lot more. The unit is well laid out, and despite the raft of functions, is easy to navigate. Apart from that, you get a wireless charging pad big enough to hold large phones, a crisp-sounding 12-speaker Canton surround sound system, 12-way powered front seats, dual-zone climate control, and more. Unfortunately, there are a few big misses, including a sunroof, ventilated seats, and a 360-degree camera, which ideally should have been there in a car of its asking price.
Engine and Performance
The Octavia now gets a larger 2.0-litre turbo petrol motor (mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic), putting out a healthy 190PS. This motor feels silky smooth, and it's only when you wring it out does it get a little noisy. At lower RPMs, there is some hesitation, but after 2500rpm, you are pushed back in the comfortable driver seat as the Octavia accelerates with a lot of gusto.
The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission works really well in tandem and makes full use of the power on tap. It responds quickly to the change in position of your right foot and ensures that you are in the meat of the power band at all times. In Comfort mode, the throttle response feels smooth and the torquey motor ensures minimum gear shifts. In Dynamic mode, the gearbox becomes hypersensitive as the dual-clutch automatic downshifts even with little pressure on the accelerator pedal. But it also becomes quite jerky, and unless you’re in a hurry, we suggest you stick to the ‘Comfort’ setting. In manual mode, though, you can actually have quite a bit of fun, as the gearbox downshifts on demand, accompanied by a blip from the throttle.
Ride and Handling
Like the engine, the Octavia´s ride is impressive too. It behaves beautifully over rough roads, thanks to the quiet, softly damped, long-travel suspension. Despite the soft setup, even highway drives will be surprisingly comfortable as the 2021 Octavia remains composed over undulating surfaces with not much body movement. As a result, covering long distances feels effortless.
Is the Octavia fun to drive? Well, absolutely! The chassis balance really surprises you, and despite it having a comfortable ride, it is eager to change directions. The Octavia feels agile, and the steering is well-weighted and accurate. What adds to your confidence is that the sedan feels extremely stable going around corners even at high speeds. The brakes feel strong and offer a good amount of bite.
The Octavia is well loaded in terms of safety. You get six airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, ESP, hill hold assist, front and rear parking sensors, and three-point seatbelts for all five passengers. But it does miss out on active safety features like auto brake, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist, which is present on more affordable cars like the Volkswagen T-Roc.
Overall, the new Skoda Octavia builds on the strong points of the earlier model and wraps them in a package that’s neater and more modern than before. It feels thoroughly stylish inside and outside, and interior quality levels are just exceptional. Then there is the way the new Octavia drives, which manages to put a smile on your face. The ride quality is flawless, it handles beautifully, and the turbo petrol motor is performance personified. It is very practical too and can give a lot of SUVs a run for their money.
The 2021 Octavia retails from Rs 25.99 lakh (for the base-spec Style) going all the way up to Rs 28.99 lakh (for the top-spec L&K), making it a lot more expensive than the outgoing model. Considering the sedan is really a significant step up from its predecessor, we would have readily forgiven it for being heavy on our pockets. But if you look at the brochure carefully, you’ll see the Octy misses out on some key feel good and safety features. If you love driving, the Octavia might just be the best car at this price point, but as a VFM package, it leaves a lot to be desired.